Oxygen Concentrator : Home oxygen therapy for COPD, asthma and lung cancer patients

Every cell in humans requires oxygen to survive. Breathing difficulties conditions such as asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the COVID-19 infection may result in hypoxia (Hypoxia – a condition where oxygen is low in our blood). When the oxygen level in our blood is too low, we may need oxygen therapy. In the last decade, choices of oxygen therapy are limited. Bulky oxygen cylinders that have limited mobility could also be dangerous. With medical technology advancement, we now have another oxygen therapy option, which is the oxygen concentrator.



The oxygen concentrator is a medical device that is sold with a prescription. It is equipped with special filters that help to purify the air, and it has an electronic interface where we can adjust the level of oxygen concentration prescribed by practitioners. Generally, an oxygen concentrator works by collecting ambient air, filtering out nitrogen, compressing it to the required density, then delivers the purified medical grade oxygen to the patient through an oxygen mask or nasal cannula. It can be a home oxygen concentrator (a device that requires an electrical plug-in) or a portable oxygen concentrator (a device that uses batteries) which offers better mobility.



The ambient air comprises 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. An individual with breathing-related disorders will struggle in converting normal air into oxygen needed by the body. Therefore, they require an oxygen concentrator that provides 90-95% purified oxygen. There are certain conditions when a person needs oxygen therapy. These conditions can be acute (requires oxygen for a short period) or chronic (requires long-term oxygen concentrator use).

Acute conditions:

Chronic conditions

Asthma attack

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Pneumonia (Bacterial / Covid-19 infections)

Cystic fibrosis

Respiratory distress syndrome

Sleep apnea


A normal individual should not simply use an oxygen concentrator unless it has been prescribed by a health care practitioner. This is because breathing in a high concentration of oxygen can lead to problems such as oxygen toxicity.



The lifespan of an oxygen concentrator is based on many factors like how often it was used and its maintenance. A stationary oxygen concentrator typically works for around 15,000 to 20,000 hours while a portable and smaller oxygen concentrator lasts about 2,000 hours of use.  It is important to clean the nasal cannula every week by soaking it in a mild soap solution, rinsed thoroughly, and hang to dry. In addition, most units have a gross filter and a HEPA filter, and these filters may require regular inspection, cleaning, or replacement.




Both oxygen tank and oxygen concentrator deliver oxygen therapy to patients who are not able to get the desired amount of oxygen on their own. Unlike a conventional oxygen cylinder, an oxygen concentrator does not require refilling, it can supply unlimited oxygen continuously. Another advantage of an oxygen concentrator is portability. Until today, there are many variants of portable concentrators in the market that are light weighted and can be used for traveling. However, the oxygen cylinder has its benefits over an oxygen concentrator too. The oxygen tank does not require a power supply, it can be used as backup oxygen during unscheduled power outages. Also, oxygen cylinders are silent compared to the oxygen concentrator. The long-term use costing for both oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators is similar. Although an oxygen concentrator comes with a more expensive up-front cost in the initial purchase, it does not require regular oxygen refilling like an oxygen tank which can cost greater over time. There are both pros and cons of oxygen concentrators depending on how severely a patient relies on them. Hence, it is important to discuss with health care practitioners, whether you need temporary or long-term continuous oxygen support before deciding on buying an oxygen tank or an oxygen concentrator.


By Ms Carol Leong, Vcare Pharmacist.


  1. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/pulse-oximeters-and-oxygen-concentrators-what-know-about-home-oxygen-therapy
  2. https://www.who.int/medical_devices/innovation/hospt_equip_11.pdf
  3. https://o2assist.com/blogs/news/oxygen-tank-vs-oxygen-concentrator